The sun is barely awake when people in Changchun, China welcome the day by gathering in Culture Square, (also known as Changchun Cultural Square). The clock has barely struck seven o’clock, and this large city park is already bursting with life and color.
Soothing music plays from a corner near the park entrance, where a small group engages in the ancient practice of Tai Chi. Both physically demanding and soul-quieting, this martial art is a common sight across China. Wearing t-shirts and track pants, the group transitions from one form to the next in total unison.
Across the grass, soccer teams occupy several fields where drills and games send black and white balls flying in all directions. Several basketball courts flank the fields, all of which are filled with dueling players. Up in the sky, dozens of brightly colored kites dart and spin. Laughing children hold tightly to strings with the same enthusiasm as the adults behind them.
Wide sidewalks hold a steady stream of walkers plugged into headphones or chatting away with a friend. Some groups of walkers like to make things interesting by walking backwards! They never look back, always trusting their path and believing people will move out of the way. Yet, a third group of walkers, hold their arms above their heads or straight out to the side. Sometimes they take it step further by rotating each arm in small circular motions. Either way, it’s best to get out of the way when you see one coming!
The backdrop to all of this activity is quite striking. An enormous television screen broadcasts the morning news just loud enough to be heard without being obnoxious. Bright flower gardens surround elegant stone sculptures, while the Sun Bird Monument towers high above everything.
A large fountain sits near the center at the base of the Sun Bird Monument. It’s here that I meet a man who spends his mornings practicing calligraphy on the sidewalk. In his hand, he holds a long stick with a wet sponge attached to the end. He dips the sponge in the fountain water and then “paints” graceful Chinese characters on the pavement. His artwork remains visible for only a few minutes, but each is a masterpiece.
He calls himself a “calligrapher-poet” and passes on a bit of wisdom that has remained with me, even years later. In a low voice tinged with kindness he tells me, “The foundation of writing is art.” Whether it be in reference to flowing strokes or storytelling, this man knows a beautiful secret and I am honored he shared it with me.
That wise calligrapher, with his curious and open-minded nature gave yet another gift. He reached out to a perfect stranger and embraced me as a friend before he even knew my name. The same can be said of a little girl on roller skates. She came right up to me and smiled with her wishes for peace. I’ve never experienced a more beautiful morning.
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